As the sun sets over Namibia's endless horizons, the stars light the way across the grasslands, wetlands and deserts. Creatures that lie sleeping in the scorching heat of the day awaken, and a new world emerges...
Night falls on the barren deserts
And with it, the temperature drops dramatically. The cool breeze brings a taste of fog to the air. The sound of a thousand barking geckos echoes through the dunes. The noise is intoxicating, as they use the crevices between rocks as trumpets to amplify the calls. The dancing white lady spider tap-dances across the sand, while the scorpions begin a dance of their own, as the male lures the female out of her burrow. The dunes are shifting under the feet many insects, arachnids and reptiles looking for food. There are larger carnivores out and about too. Among them is the ratel, or honey badger. He is bathing in the cool sand under the stars. When he’s done, he’ll begin the night hunt. A deadly snake for dinner, perhaps? The brown hyena is roaming the west coast where the desert meets the ocean, giving him the name strandwolf or “wolf of the beach”. Travelling 25-35 kms in a single night, he trawls the coastline by the light of the moon for scraps of seals and seabirds thrown back to land by the sea.
National Geographic archive video, tracking the night adventures of Kleinman the reckless honey badger
There's a rustle in the floodplains
In the Kavango, along the ever-changing Okavango river, you can hear the snorts and grunts of hippos on the move. They have left the river for the evening to forage for food. A hippo fight under the moonlight is a common night sight. But that odd smell is not the hippos, it is the flowers of the terminalia sericea or vaalboom. The night has brought a feast of moths and insects. Nightjars follow suit, letting out a beautiful lilting whistle, flying amidst the Lapwings and other birds of the night.
A thriller in the grasslands
The sound of the jackal haunts the night sky. You can’t always see him, but knowing he is on the hunt and listening to his blood-curdling cry will make your spine tingle. A kudu barks. Is he looking for a mate or is he just scared? The snakes have slithered onto the open roads to soak up the last heat of the day. As if on cue, an owl swoops past and lets out a mighty screech.
The big game is on the move. Sitting around a waterhole at night, you can watch as elephants, giraffe, rhino, zebras and all types of buck emerge from the darkness for an evening drink. Or take a night drive to catch a glimpse of the smaller creatures invisible by day – porcupines, pangolins, aardvark and genets.
On a full moon, the landscapes are lit up as clear as day. The usual night predators – like the caracal, leopards and hyenas - have lost their cloak of darkness. With the element of surprise gone, smaller creatures pluck up the courage to come out to forage. And on such a full moon you may be lucky enough to see the wild dogs of Africa make a rare appearance.
In the early summer months you can feel the shudder of thunder in the pit of your stomach as the clouds roll across the plains. The lightning bolts light up all four corners of the night sky. The first rains fill the evening with the smell of dust and grass and fresh damp – a glorious smell you will never want to forget. The crickets crrick-crrick in the distance as a symphony of giant African bull frogs chime in. In the winter months, when the frolicking and hubbub of mating season has died down, the silence of the bush is just as deafening.
Lightning illuminates the Namibian skies
Game creeps to the waterholes
Wherever you find yourself in Namibia, sit back in your chair or lie on the grass, watch the stars, breathe in deeply and listen to the world around you. You can almost feel the eyes of a thousand wild souls watching you in the dead of the night. And it feels magical.
Ideas for Namibian nights in the wild
Special thanks to Mark Paxton, conservationist and lover of the wild, for his time and contributions to this post.